By Terry Elliott
Colton Councilman and San Bernardino Police Department Sergeant John Echevarria is a bilingual homegrown officer who originates from humble beginnings right here in San Bernardino. He was raised by a single mother in a housing project on the west side of the city, they were a simple and struggling family who depended largely on public assistance and food stamps. Unlike so many, John is not ashamed of his struggling early life, instead proudly wears it as a badge of honor. He insists that it was the foundation that helped develop him into the family man he is today.
For financial reasons, his maternal family was forced to move around, bouncing back and forth between Colton and San Bernardino. But John, ever proud of his industrious mother who made life as good as she could to provide for him and his 3 siblings, knew he had to step up to help her. Little did John know he would have to help bury his sister when he was just 16 years old, a brother at 23, his beloved mother at 33, and his last remaining sister when he was only 39. Suddenly John was the only survivor of his family. Nonetheless, he decided early on that he was not going to fail, and he was resolute about succeeding.
John attended local schools and because of their constant moving he attended both Colton High and ultimately graduated from Cajon High School in 1996. Determined to succeed, John was the first in his family to go to college. He graduated from San Bernardino Valley College (Associate’s in Criminal Justice), Cal State San Bernardino (Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice), and California Baptist University (Master’s in Public Administration).
John, looking toward having a family of his own, was determined that they would not have the same struggles he did. He decided to make a home and raise his family here locally, where he has always called home. He purchased a home on the Colton/San Bernardino border where he and his wife of nearly 21 years, and their four children still proudly reside.
As a career choice, John decided in high school the best way he could be most influential to himself, his family and his community was by becoming a police officer. In 1996, at just 18 years old, the Upland Police Department gave him that opportunity as a cadet. Consequently in 1999 he was sworn in as an Upland Police Officer. In 2002 he received the opportunity he had been longing for, to return to San Bernardino, and he took it! He was proudly sworn in as a San Bernardino Police Officer in 2002.
Over the years, John rose through the ranks working patrol and ultimately in 2018 promoted to sergeant. He has worked in various assignments such as Hostage Negotiation Team, SWAT, K-9, Detective Bureau, Field Training Officer, Corporal, Community Recruitment Officer, and Department PIO (Public Information Officer) where he managed departmental media relations, all social media platforms, scheduling and meeting regularly with community groups.
His proudest assignment until recently was when John was promoted in 2019 to Supervisor of the Community Affairs Division by former Chief Eric McBride. He used this position to do what he loved, be a liaison between his community and law enforcement.
“Transparency promotes understanding and better relationships with the people that allow us to serve them. So many community members are quietly so kind to us, and often look for ways to show their appreciation,” John remarked. “This position gave me the opportunity to create, develop and foster, so many more of those untapped relationships.”
“At the time I took over the division, our Civilian Volunteer Support Units were largely dormant. Through the Reserves, Explorers, CERT, Police Activities League, Leads Program, Special Olympics Liaison, Chaplains and Citizen Patrol Volunteers, I was able to reinvigorate them into an active bustling team of near 100 contributing and effective volunteers which grew exponentially, and is now seen by most as a valuable asset to our City and the Department,” John continued. “Eight of my Explorer recruits have actually been hired by the department. Interestingly, even other local agencies often seek my advice and counsel in building and developing their Volunteer Units.”
Because of his own upbringing, John says, “I always attempt to treat everyone with equal respect. I don’t look down on people. I see myself as no better than anyone else. I know most people don’t ever want to come in contact with us, but it’s my job to keep my city safe and to try to, in some way, make it both more enjoyable and safer for all of our residents. While working, I personally attempt to treat every contact with a citizen as if I were in their shoes, or they were a member my own family”.
“I routinely remind myself, if it weren’t for the public trust and confidence in me, I wouldn’t have either of my jobs. I appreciate and value the community’s trust!” Admittedly, says John, “We do a tough job and though people don’t want to admit it, it’s also dangerous. The support of the community allows us to safely go home at the end of our shift, feeling that we were effective and the risks we willingly take are appreciated by our city residents.”
John admits that while policing in general, and San Bernardino specifically, has faced its challenges both politically and often in public perception, he is determined to try and change that often false, public perception.
“I work with an exceptional group of people who come to work every day and work hard for this city. Former Chief McBride, and now Interim Chief Green have always demanded nothing but professionalism from us as SBPD Officers. Under these two, the department has become more diverse than I ever recall, both in hiring and promotional opportunities. As leaders, both recognized that (officers) come from so many divergent backgrounds, they routinely solicit and value our opinions and perspectives through those lenses.”
As if that weren’t enough already, John then decided he could still do more. He ran for and won a city council seat in Colton. Since taking office, John has become even more visible and active in both cities – a full-time police sergeant for San Bernardino and a full-time council member for Colton.
When asked how his peers view him in light of all that he has on his plate while taking care of his young family, he replied, “The reactions range from fascinated to envious, baffled and every other emotion in between.” He is beloved and respected by his peers as well as the community.
John continues to serve us as a patrol sergeant and enjoys the opportunity, he says, “to mentor young new officers as they become new additions to our SBPD family.”
It is with great pride that we celebrate our homegrown Sergeant John Echevarria, who is truly a San Bernardino success story. We thank him and are honored by his loyalty and dedication to our City as he approaches his 20-year anniversary with the City of San Bernardino!